When things are looking down, look up.
It’s true. The physical act of moving the gaze upward lifts the spirit. While brain research and psychological studies offer support for this claim, just take a minute to prove or dispel it yourself with some research of your own. Chin up, forehead back, and I’m staring at a blank white ceiling, but I also feel myself take an involuntary deep breath. Something shifts slightly. You too? Just a slight loosening of tension follows.
On the other hand, it’s easy to see how the increasing habit of looking down into the attention-demanding phone screen might serve to just as easily compound physical stress and a lower mood through a constricted focus, especially on news that grows more and more disturbing with each click. Break the spell. Get even a minute of relief. Look up!
Now try something else. Look up, head as far back as is comfortable, and grin idiotically at the same time. Chances are you might chuckle at this manic move. The benefits of even a forced smile are even more well-documented and just as easily proven with your own quick grin. Google “psychological benefits of smiling” to find a plethora of articles to verify, but studies indicate that the smile lifts moods, reduces stress, boosts the immune system, increases lifespan, lowers the blood pressure, and remarkably releases more endorphins than eating several bars of chocolate! So, by some stretch of this logic, you might also find yourself reaching less-often for those extra calories. Smile! No one’s around to see you grinning like a fool, and if they are, smiles and their benefits are also contagious. Be generous.
The restorative effect of looking at nature, a no-brainer for most of us, has also been studied and recognized as a way to stimulate a more-productive workforce, even while remaining inside, ironically. But that’s not bad news for anyone who has little nature to view from window or porch. Apparently looking at photos of nature produces similar relief, and magnificent examples are under your fingertips, not only on instagram, but in online “image” searches. However, we all own the sky, whether looking out a window or standing under it out on the sidewalk. And to see it you have to . . . Look up! If you live where the night is full of stars . . . oh, lucky you!
Like listening, which is the active and selective form of hearing, looking is also a choice. Where will we pay that attention, and what are we getting for our “money?” Is it worth it? Healthy eyes will see. What their gaze attends to is up to us. I offer cheap diversions, simple, even silly suggestions. But maybe they’ll work for you, too.
We need all the tools we can find to endure the challenges of our time, whatever the depth of our experience. Looking and listening are assets; they can’t be hoarded. They can be performed inside or outdoors, sitting or moving, any time of the day or night, in public or private. And they are acts that take very little time in light of the benefit you might experience. I hope you do.